If you have ever curled up next to someone who kicks or punches in their sleep, then you know how much it can interrupt not only they sleep but also your own. While this is often dismissed as being ‘nothing’, experts advise that there is actually a scientific explanation for this behavior.
Estimated to start approximately 90 minutes after falling asleep, REM sleep is the deepest sleep state and the stage in which most of our dreams occur. When we move into this stage, the mind sends signals to the body that temporarily paralyzes the arm and leg muscles. That may sound a little frightening, but it serves a really important purpose in helping us to get a deep sleep, as this prevents us from physically acting out our dreams.
There is, however, a portion of the population that suffers from REM Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD), in which the body fails to reach this stage of paralysis. As a result, they will actually engage in behaviors triggered by their dreams including, but not limited to, kicking, punching, hitting, screaming, shouting, sleep talking or even jumping up out of bed in your sleep. The person engaging in these behaviors is completely unaware of what they are doing at that moment, still lost in their sleep, often until they are somehow wakened by their actions.
While it might be funny at first, making for some funny stories of the stories that you told in your sleep, if you are living with RBD it shouldn’t be brushed aside. Completely unaware of your surroundings, it’s not at all uncommon for the person experiencing RBD or their partner to suffer injuries throughout the night. For example, if you’re fast asleep and you lash out, you could connect with your headboard, bedside table (or anything on it), or even fall out of bed. Furthermore, your arms or legs could make contact with your partner, causing them injuries.
Physical contact injuries aren’t the only concern. Studies have found that people who suffer from RBD often experience difficulty regulating blood pressure levels as well as an increased risk of stroke and heart disease.
“We think these periodic limb movements cause a fluctuating in blood pressure and heart rate at night. If you have a lot of them, your blood pressure will move up and down and that’ll have cardiovascular implications. It might also be associated with inflammation, plaque development or rupturing of plaque – all early warning signs,” explained Dr. Mark Boulos, a neurologist at Sunnybrook and a professor at the University of Toronto.
The good news is that there are options available for the management and treatment of RBD. If your sleep is regularly interrupted by your nighttime movements, or your partner reports odd movements over the course of the night, it is recommended that you contact your doctor for more information.
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